Advocates say homeless student problem may be growing in St. Tammany Parish

MANDEVILLE, LA (WVUE) - It is considered one of Louisiana's most prosperous parishes but it has not escaped problems associated with homelessness.

The situation is especially dire for school-age students who often find themselves without necessities or a place to live.

Unlike other parts of the metro area where the homeless can be seen camping out, the problem in St Tammany is often hard to spot.

"It's hard to imagine that kids are getting up and going to school and don't have access to just basic items," said homeless student advocate Wendy Keller.

Students without a place to lay their head or lacking necessities most take for granted and it happens on the Northshore more often than many might think.

Advocates say there are between 12 and 25 homeless students in most St. Tammany High Schools.

Ed Kimball took in two of his son's friends who had nowhere else to turn.

"They had deadbeat dads and their moms couldn't do nothing with them," said Kimball.

Wendy Keller also stepped up when her daughter came home from school and asked her for hygiene products for a homeless classmate.

"I called and they said there were a bunch of students who didn't have the resources or they were homeless," said Keller.

Keller started a non-profit to help students in need called 'Our Friend's Closet'. She began collecting deodorants, toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap...things we all take for granted and got an overwhelming response from people in the community like dentist Dr. Emilie Schenck.

"I really feel passionate about helping these kids. We all take for granted that they have these things," said Schenck.

Schenck is among dozens of people who have begun donating to a program that began helping out two schools but now provides help to around 400 students attending 18 schools.

The organizers have been somewhat surprised by the number of schools and students who have asked for help and they're now branching out to other parishes and states.

"Next year we add St. Bernard, Washington Parish, even Ocean Springs(MI)."

It is a labor of love for this mother of four who wants to help others set up chapters in Orleans and Jefferson.

"Absolutely we want to hit as many kids as we can," said Keller.

And she's hoping that collections keep coming in through the summer so that she has adequate supplies for hundreds of students in need when school begins once again in the fall.

If you want to help students who are homeless or in need, you can go to the 'Our Friend's Closet' facebook page.

There are also several drop-off locations. In Slidell, at 'Infini tees' on Robert Boulevard. In Covington, at the Paul Lea Law Firm on Boston Street. In Mandeville, at the Discon Law Firm on 424 North Causeway and in Chalmette at the 'Hair Place' on 1310 East Judge Perez.

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